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A Lost Incident in the History of the Wild West.

Book Critic Maureen Corrigan reviews The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction by historian Linda Gordon (Harvard Press).

05:57

Other segments from the episode on January 21, 2000

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 21, 2000: Interview with Bill Murray; Review of Linda Gordon's book "The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction"; Review of Keith Karrett's album "The Melody at Night,…

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JANUARY 21, 2000
Time: 12:00
Tran: 012101np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: `The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction' Explores Little-Known but Stunning Act of Racism
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:30

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: In her new book, "The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction," historian Linda Gordon recovers a lost incident in the history of the Wild West whose meaning reverberates far beyond its time.

Book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BOOK CRITIC: "The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction" is a fabulous book, a spell-binding narrative history whose foundations rest on solid scholarly detective work. This is the kind of rigorous but engaging book that academics dream of writing. Its author, Linda Gordon, is an eminent women's historian whose previous books and articles, including "The Standard History of American Birth Control," "Women's Bodies, Women's Rights," have pretty much reached only an academic audience.

But with "The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction," Gordon has unearthed a long-forgotten story that's not only astonishing in its own right, but that also engages big, vexed intellectual questions about race, class, and gender in a dramatic, accessible fashion.

No wonder Gordon quotes that famous line from the poet William Blake as the epigraph to her book, "To see a world in a grain of sand."

"The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction" opens with an unforgettable image, one of many to appear in the chapters to come. On September 25, 1904, in New York City's Grand Central Station, 57 toddlers, all of them orphans of Irish Catholic descent, were squeezed into a special sleeping car on a train bound westward.

They were accompanied by three nuns, four nurses, and one male child placement agent from the New York Foundling Home, which was then the premier child-saving institution in the city.

The orphans had already been assigned to couples whose good Catholic credentials had been checked out. The journey away from New York would not only give these orphans a shot at upward social mobility, but as Gordon stresses, would transform them from Irish to white. For in turn-of-the-century New York, the other immigrant groups were classified by their ethnicity and categories other than white.

When the orphans, however, reached their journey's final destination, an isolated Arizona mining town called Clifton, something terrible happened. There to greet them was a crowd of eager white women who assumed that the orphans were up for grabs. Imagine their outrage, then, when they saw those pale Irish toddlers being placed into the arms of Mexican women.

The priest in Clifton had been following his bishop's orders to locate good Catholic mothers for the children. Because this priest was newly arrived from Belgium, he was relatively oblivious to distinctions of skin color.

In the awful hours that followed, the children were kidnapped from their assigned Mexican parents by a band of armed white vigilantes. The nuns and nurses, deserted by their male colleague and by the priest, were determined to save the orphans' souls, now in the hands of white Protestants. Alone, they faced a lynch mob of some 400 white townspeople, most of them, by some accounts, women.

Run out of town the next day, the nuns, together with the foundling home, initiated legal proceedings to get the orphans back. The case went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which concurred with an earlier ruling that stated that the party best able to provide for the children was not the "degraded half-breed Indians, but the good women of the town."

Gordon notes that no Mexican voices were heard at the trials. A silent image that speaks volumes, however, is embedded in the testimony of the foundling home attorney. He recalled that one of the Mexican mothers he visited showed him the clothing she had made in preparation for her child -- two red flannel skirts, two white skirts, one undervest, one red dress, underclothing, and a great deal of cloth that she had not yet sewn.

Gordon alternates the chapters in which she recounts this arresting narrative with other chapters in which she carefully delves into, among other things, the history of American adoption, copper mining and labor relations, the so-called civilizing role of women on the frontier, Mexican immigration patterns, and, most fascinating of all, the malleability of racial categories and the historical factors leading to their construction.

In its dramatic sweep and scrupulousness, Gordon's book reminds me of the majestic works of the late and very much lamented journalist J. Anthony Lucas.

But what sets "The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction" apart from his books, and particularly apart from other superb narrative histories, is that this is a story in which women are the primary actors, the monsters, the misguided, the victims. The narrative histories that dominate the best-sellers list these days are all about male adventures, D-Day, the Lewis and Clark and the Shackleton Expeditions. Gordon's book, however, treats readers to a gripping but unsentimental story about daring public assertions of female authority and the force of female desire.

In the tradition of the very finest historians, Gordon makes us appreciate how very complex the truth of the past and its cast of characters really is.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed "The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction" by Linda Gordon.

Coming up, Keith Jarrett's new solo CD.

This is FRESH AIR.

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, PIANO PIECE, KEITH JARRETT)

(BREAK)

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, Maureen Corrigan
Guest:
High: In her new book, "The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction," historian Linda Gordon recovers a lost incident in the history of the Wild West whose meaning reverberates far beyond its time.
Spec: Families; Art; Discrimination

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2000 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 2000 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: `The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction' Explores Little-Known but Stunning Act of Racism

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: JANUARY 21, 2000
Time: 12:00
Tran: 012102np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Keith Jarrett Releases Solo CD
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:45

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says you could think of Keith Jarrett's new solo piano CD as his basement tapes. Like Bob Dylan's famous sessions, it was recorded at the artist's home, was not initially intended to be released, and was made during a period when he was in seclusion and rumors were flying about his health.

Kevin says the similarities between Jarrett's and Dylan's home recordings end there, but that Jarrett's album has something all its own.

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, "DON'T EVER LEAVE ME," KEITH JARRETT)

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, JAZZ CRITIC: "Don't Ever Leave Me," by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein. The piano sings very well at low volume. But on the bandstand or in the studio, improvising pianists seldom play that way. Either they're competing with the drummer or amplified bassist or trying to project to an audience.

On Keith Jarrett's new solo CD, his best interpretations of standards convey a rare peace and quiet. The melodies are right up front, and the accompaniment pared to a minimum. It's like he's arranged the music for church bells.

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, "I LOVES YOU, PORGY," KEITH JARRETT)

WHITEHEAD: "I Loves You, Porgy," by Gershwin and Gershwin. It's from Keith Jarrett's CD, "The Melody at Night With You." He recorded it himself at the end of 1997 as a Christmas present for his wife. Only later did he think about releasing it.

He usually keeps the music quiet, if not always that quiet, but there are moments when Jarrett the concert pianist comes out, and he goes for some grand gesture, and the mood evaporates.

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, PIANO PIECE, KEITH JARRETT)

WHITEHEAD: There are risks in trying to keep things so simple. Keeping the accent on melody and the background unobtrusive is also what cocktail pianists do, or the many New Age piano players that Jarrett unwittingly inspired 20 years ago. They took to the way he'd set aside a jazz musician's traditional tools, namely swing time and blues feeling, to confront other strains of Americana.

Besides the jazz vehicles, on his new one, Keith Jarrett plays the Irish American standard, "My Wild Irish Rose" -- his wife's name is Rose -- and the glee club perennial, "Shenandoah."

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, "SHENANDOAH," KEITH JARRETT)

WHITEHEAD: When Keith Jarrett recorded this stuff, he was sidelined with chronic fatigue syndrome. It's tempting to draw a connection between this quiet music and that poorly understood condition, but that seems simplistic. Artists' choices are usually more complicated.

For me, some of his playing here is as simply beautiful as Shaker furniture, and sometimes he sounds like he's polishing the furniture. Jarrett walks a tightrope between what works and what doesn't. That makes his new CD less than the classic some folks hear it as, but it also keeps you paying attention to hear which side of the line he'll fall on. Any music that inspires close listening can't be bad and won't be mistaken for cocktail music.

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the author of "New Dutch Swing." He reviewed Keith Jarrett's CD, "At Night With You."

Our senior producer this week has been Roberta Shorrock.

I'm Terry Gross.

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, PIANO PIECE, KEITH JARRETT)

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, Kevin Whitehead
Guest:
High: Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says you could think of Keith Jarrett's new solo piano CD as his basement tapes. Like Bob Dylan's famous sessions, it was recorded at the artist's home, was not initially intended to be released, and was made during a period when he was in seclusion and rumors were flying about his health.
Spec: Art; Music Industry; Entertainment

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2000 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 2000 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: When Keith Jarrett recorded this stuff, he was sidelined with chronic fatigue syndrome. It's tempting to draw a connection between this quiet music and that poorly understood condition, but that seems simplistic. Artists' choices are usually more complicated.

For me, some of his playing here is as simply beautiful as Shaker furniture, and sometimes he sounds like he's polishing the furniture. Jarrett walks a tightrope between what works and what doesn't. That makes his new CD less than the classic some folks hear it as, but it also keeps you paying attention to hear which side of the line he'll fall on. Any music that inspires close listening can't be bad and won't be mistaken for cocktail music.

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the author of "New Dutch Swing." He reviewed Keith Jarrett's CD, "At Night With You."

Our senior producer this week has been Roberta Shorrock.

I'm Terry Gross.

(AUDIO CLIP, EXCERPT, PIANO PIECE, KEITH JARRETT)

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, Kevin Whitehead
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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